Mathematical Milestone: Doing Division, aka Math for Breakfast

MathMilestoneThe other morning, right after I woke my daughter for school, she announced, "Mommy, I know that six divided by three is two. AND I know that six divided by two is three. I just figured it out last night, and Daddy said it was right." I agreed that this was indeed correct. She claimed that this was the only division that she knew, and I proved her wrong there by asking her what ten divided by two would be. She counted by twos on her fingers and came up with five. We also discussed the fact that since anything divided by one is itself, she actually knows things like 1,900,017 / 1. 

Asked after this what she wanted for breakfast she said "More math!" So, I set out twelve pieces of cereal next to her plate and I shot division and multiplication problems at her while she ate her bagel. She understands intuitively that if twelve divided by four is three, then twelve divided by three must be four. She's starting to understand that in that case, four times three must equal twelve. We went a bit beyond the 12 (twenty-four divided by six, etc.), but it started to be less fun, and we eventually moved on to reading picture books. 

What I'm finding interesting, something that I hadn't expected, is seeing HOW she solves problems. She doesn't always get to the answer the way that I would, or even in a way that makes immediate sense to me. But she gets there. For example, she knew that 12 times two was 24 because she had memorized that 12 + 13 = 25, and calculated it would be one less than that. Whatever works, I say. 

With Common Core at school, there is considerable emphasis on showing how you come up with a solution, so I'm encouraging her to share her thinking with me. She's still working in school on addition, with numbers that add up to 10 or less. This is actually ok, because she's learning to memorize those sums, instead of having to calculate them each time. In the meantime, I figure it can't hurt for her to practice multiplying and dividing at home, if that's something she finds interesting. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: September 30: #BannedBooksWeek, #HispanicHeritageMonth + #GrowthMindset

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Not included here are various posts about the Cybils Award judges as well as the descriptions for the various categories. Please visit the #Cybils blog to see these. Topics this week include #DiverseBooks, #GrowthMindset, #KidLitCon, #math, Boston Globe - Horn Book Awards, Gene Luen Yang, grades, growing bookworms, Hispanic Heritage Month, magic portals, Picture Book Month, and reading choice. 


AmericanBornChineseHow MacArthur ‘Genius’ Gene Luen Yang plans to use resources to expand #ReadingWithoutWalls + his other efforts  @WSJ

It's 2016 Boston Globe - @HornBook  #PictureBook Award Day  #kidlit

Book Lists

25 Titles to Celebrate #HispanicHeritageMonth#PictureBooks | a @literacious#BookList  #DiverseBooks

25 Title to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month – Middle Grade & #YA | @literacious #BookList  #DiverseBooks #kidlit

Children's + Young Adult Fiction Featuring a Child w/ an Incarcerated Parent  #BookList from @MitaliPerkins #kidlit

Books for Kids to help with navigating Death and Grief  | #BookList from @growingbbb #kidlit #PictureBooks

Children’s Books That Tackle Race and Ethnicity | #BookList from @mariarussonyt  #kidlit #WeNeedDiverseBooks

A Tuesday Ten from @TesseractViews | #kidlit featuring Magical Gateways / portals to other realms (wardrobe, etc.)

The Sibling Reality: When #PictureBooks Stop Being Nice + Start Getting Real — short #BookList from mom @fuseeight 

Diverse Books

Kids' Books Featuring #Diverse Characters Are More Likely to Be Banned  @PENamerican @ElectricLit @PWKidsBookshelf

Events + Programs

Picture-Book-Month-Calendar-2016-300x2322016 #PictureBookMonth Champions Announced! #kidlit authors, illustrators+ more  @PictureBkMonth @AuthorDianneDLC

The focus of #BannedBooksWeek 2016 is on celebrating #DiverseBooks  | @HornBook #kidlit #YA

How @aquafortis is Celebrating #BannedBooksWeek + list of frequently challenged books w/ #diverse content 

Growing Bookworms

Three simple words from a doctor that changed a child's life: "let him read" by @RobertHoge @nerdybookclub

Students reading books that are just ok will not inspire further reading + is a #reading crisis says @pernilleripp

Growth Mindset

MathematicalMidsetsTeacher shares How "Mathmatical Mindsets" by @joboaler showed her she's not "dumb" re #math @alicekeeler @FresnoBee

Thoughts from @katsok on the Beauty of Failure - learning + becoming more understanding of others  #GrowthMindset

A teacher changed Perspective on Grades b/c students who receive comments only show the most #growth  @hhschiaravalli 



Early Bird registration for #KidlitCon 2016 (Wichita, 10/14-15) closes 9/30. Don't miss this chance to talk #kidlit

#KidLit + #YA bloggers + fans, #KidLitCon 2016 is your chance to meet keynotes @AS_King + Clare Vanderpool in person 

New project: The Backlist! from @bkshelvesofdoom will cover older books + stories, at least 5 years old  #kidlit #YA

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Just for fun: Famous Illustrators’ Depictions of Knitting Ranked in Order of Competency — @fuseeight 

And for more fun, @Lauri14o is doing #PictureBook Personals | installment 2 features a certain monkey  #kidlit

In Praise of the E-Reader from new convert @sunlitpages  #reading


RaiseAnAdultStanford Dean Says Parents are Ruining Their kids By Overparenting  #DailyCrackle @RaiseAnAdult | give them chores

Schools and Libraries

Boys & Learning: Build, Design, Create & Experiment by @TrevorHCairney  | Many lessons fail to actively engage boys

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

How To Be A Hero: Florence Parry Heide + Chuck Groenink

Book: How To Be A Hero
Author: Florence Parry Heide
Illustrator: Chuck Groenink
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

HowToBeAHeroHow To Be A Hero, written by Florence Parry Heide and illustrated by Chuck Groenink is my new favorite picture book. To be honest, I didn't appreciate this one until my second read though, but now I think it's genius. How To Be A Hero is about a nice boy named Gideon who wants to be a hero. He feels initially that he should be brave and strong. But then he actually studies fairy tale heroes, and concludes that all that's really needed is to be in the right place at the right time (e.g. the Prince who happens by a sleeping Snow White and kisses her). Even his favorite hero, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), happens onto the magic beans, without any real effort.

So Gideon decides to keep his eyes open, and spot opportunities for heroism. And this is where the book gets great. Because Gideon misses out on a number of opportunities for helping people, had he but noticed them, and ends up becoming famous for ... being in the right place at the right time. I was prepared for Gideon to catch a falling baby or whatever, and that would have been ok, but the way the book actually ended was much better. 

What we have here is satire in picture book form, without any mean-spiritedness. (Betsy Bird is going to love this one, too, I bet.) This book warms my sarcastic heart. 

There is humor throughout How To Be A Hero, but it's mostly subtle - you have to look for it. In the first scene, where we learn about Gideon and his nice parents, we see his mom reading a newspaper that has a headline "Adults Do Boring Stuff." When Gideon is practicing with his sword to be a hero, we see one of his stuff animals with stuffing coming out. When Gideon is thinking about the story of Snow White, the prince looks just like him, and there's a sad-looking frog watching the scene. There's a bookstore called "Grimm's Books", located near "Andersen's Tearoom". 

Or there's this:

"He noticed that some of them got to be heroes just by kissing someone. Gideon didn't much like the kissing part, but he'd probably do it if he could get to be a hero that way.

Once the babysitter fell asleep watching television and he wondered if that would count, if he kissed her, but he didn't think so and he didn't do it."

This is accompanied by images of a frowning Gideon approaching the elderly, sleeping babysitter.

In general, I think that the marriage of text and illustration is extremely well done in How To Be A Hero, particularly for a book with a separate author and illustrator. Groenink's pencil and Photoshop illustrations have a muted palette, a faintly stylized look, and an old-fashioned feel, like a dusty book of fairy tales. This is a book to reward close examination, and reading over and over again. 

And there you have it, folks. How To Be A Hero is my new favorite picture book. While the satirical story may not be for everyone (and certainly not for the youngest of listeners), I think that it's witty, original, and thoughtfully produced. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @ScaryMommy + @Palan57 + @ValerieStrauss + @Guardian

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have four articles to share with you related to instilling a joy of learning in kids. In the first, Megan Zander describes a school that has announced a "no homework" policy. In the second, Peter Greene reviews a recent report from Defending the Early Years about the importance of engaging young kids intellectually without pushing them too hard, too early academically. In the third, Valerie Strauss shares thoughts from Nancy Carlsson-Paige on how efforts to close the achievement gap have contributed to a "play gap" for disadvantaged kids (irony of ironies). In the fourth piece, the Guardian's Patrick Butler shares methods used by preschools in Finland (for kids up to age seven) to nurture the joy of learning. All of these articles are worth your time! 

Guess we are living in wrong part of CA: San Diego Elementary School Announces No #Homework Policy  @ScaryMommy

Megan Zander: "McKinley Elementary School in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, CA recently announced they will not be assigning homework for students this year. That’s right. No more lost worksheets, no standing over your kid’s shoulder while they whine, no screaming matches. No. More. Homework. (Cue choir of singing angels.)...

Parents are expected to read with their child for at least 20 minutes each night, finish any work not completed in class, and support their child’s learning outside the classroom...

While proponents of homework claim it helps students learn both responsibility and prepares them for the infamous standardized tests they’ll take all too soon and too often, there’s been no research that suggests any benefit from assigning homework in elementary school. "

Me: Too far away from San Jose for me to send my daughter, but I'm encouraged to see this story nonetheless. I hope that it's another sign that the pendulum is shifting away from homework for elementary schoolers. My own daughter's homework, in first grade, is ramping up quickly as we close the first month of school. So far, she seems energized by the homework. She's excited to show her work to my husband and me. How long that can last, I do not know... 

EngagingMindsTeacher @palan57  on recent @DEY_Project report | gist is to engage young kids intellectually not push academically

Peter Greene: "Now the folks at Defending the Early Years have published a short piece by Lilian Katz that provides a useful framework for explaining and understanding why some approaches to early childhood education are not useful...

Intellectual disposition can be damaged by "excessive and premature formal instruction," but it's not going to be strengthened by mindless or banal activities (she cites a year-long sharing time built around teddy bears). Do meaningful stuff. Or as we like to say in my family, children may be young, but they aren't dopes. They're just tiny human with fewer skills and less live experience...

Katz' recommendation is brief and clear:

Early childhood curriculum and teaching methods are likely to be best when they address children's lively minds so that they are quite frequently fully intellectually engaged."

Me: Further explanation here on why the downward push (in terms of age) of academic expectations is not only not useful but can be actively harmful. I recommend, as Peter Green does, that you click through to read the Defending Early Years piece that inspired Peter's article: Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children.

TakingBackChildhoodOur misguided effort to close the achievement gap is creating a new inequality: The #play gap @valeriestrauss

Nancy Carlsson-Paige (in a Washington Post piece by Valerie Strauss): "Kindergartens and pre-K classrooms have changed. There is less play, less art and music, less child choice, more teacher-led instruction, worksheets, and testing than a generation ago. Studies tell us that these changes, although pervasive, are most evident in schools serving high percentages of low-income children of color...

Many urban, low-income children have limited play opportunities outside of school, which makes in-school playtime even more vital for them. But what studies now show is that the children who need play the most in the early years of school get the least."

Me: I've been personally concerned about the increasingly academic focus of elementary and preschools for a while. This piece, which addresses the disparity of the impact between advantaged and disadvantaged kids is both eye-opening and depressing. It's ironic, really, that efforts to close the achievement gap are making schools and preschools more academic, which is in turn harming the long-term academic performance of the very kids who most need help. 

No grammar schools, lots of #play: secrets of Finland's #education system for kids under 7  @guardian #JoyOfLearning

Patrick Butler: "Indeed the main aim of early years education is not explicitly “education” in the formal sense but the promotion of the health and wellbeing of every child. Daycare is to help them develop good social habits: to learn how to make friends and respect others, for example, or to dress themselves competently. Official guidance also emphasises the importance in pre-school of the “joy of learning”, language enrichment and communication. There is an emphasis on physical activity (at least 90 minutes outdoor play a day)...

Carefully organised play helps develop qualities such as attention span, perseverance, concentration and problem solving, which at the age of four are stronger predictors of academic success than the age at which a child learns to read, says Whitebread (David Whitebread, director of the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & Learning at the University of Cambridge). There is evidence that high-quality early years play-based learning not only enriches educational development but boosts attainment in children from disadvantaged backgrounds who do not possess the cultural capital enjoyed by their wealthier peers."

Me: I couldn't help comparing the experiences of the Finnish preschoolers described in this story to my six-year-old daughter's school day. But I am grateful that my daughter's school has three recesses a day with free play, plus PE 3 days a week for additional physical activity. It is, of course, well known that students in Finland have excellent academic outcomes, and it's good to see stories about how they use carefully designed opportunities for play to set kids up to be joyful learners. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Learning About Censorship and Burning Books from Dan Yaccarino


This morning I read my daughter Dan Yaccarino's new picture book I Am A Story (formal review to come), about the ways that people have shared stories across history. She liked the book very much. She was especially pleased when she noted parallels to the Spaceship Earth ride at Disney's Epcot park (that ride is about the history of communication). But the page spread that really struck her was one about censorship, book banning, and book burning. 

The censorship segment shows a book with certain words blacked out. I explained why people might do this, and that banning the book is when people try to keep others from reading the book altogether. The image of people burning books she found shocking,though she was relieved to see a girl reading aloud from a book on the next page. Not all of the books were burned. She got it into her head that the girl had rescued that one book from the book burners, and was sharing it with a crowd. 

After we closed the book she continued to think about these issues. She remarked: "Crossing out some of the words would make the story not make sense." I agreed that this was true, and would be a shame. When my husband came downstairs the first thing she said to him was: "Daddy, did you know that people used to burn books? And they cross out words sometimes?" He admitted that he did know. 

I asked her if there were books that she would protect if people were trying to burn them, and she said: "I would just have a library with a million books." She was, I think, relieved when we explained that today there are so many copies of books all around the world that no one could burn all of them, and that the stories would survive. 

And then we sent her off to school. I will not be surprised if I learn later that she asked her first grade teacher or her librarian about censorship and book banning today. This is what good picture books do. They engage kids, while giving them the opportunity to learn about difficult concepts. 

I Am A Story would be a great choice for a home, classroom, or library read aloud during Banned Books Week. It certainly sparked interesting discussion in our house today. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother: Jennifer Gray Olson

Book: Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother
Author: Jennifer Gray Olson
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7


Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother is the sequel to Ninja Bunny. I haven't read the first book, but in this installment, a young bunny is on a quest to find The Golden Carrot of Awesomeness, the world's largest carrot. He wants to lead his friends on the quest, only to be pestered by his tag-along sister. In the grand tradition of parents everywhere, mom tells him to "Play with your sister, dear." There's a classic back and forth, as the sister keeps following, saying "Me too!" and the brother says things like "Only BIG bunnies can be super awesome ninjas." But the sister finds a way to use her small size to her advantage in the end. 

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother has a deliciously melodramatic tone. My favorite page is when the bunnies find "The Golden Carrot of Awesomeness", only to also find "the insurmountable vines of protection." Bonus points for a picture book that uses words like "insurmountable." The latter is accompanies by an image of the bunnies, all of whom look pretty small, confronting a huge tangle of vines, and various unfriendly signs.  

The book is also full of ninja moves, of course. I know that my own six-year-old loves all things ninja, and I think that this book will be a hit. It's a nice mix of cool ninja stuff ("Ninja chop", etc.) and classic sibling dynamics. Most of the illustrations are minimalist, with vignettes of the bunnies doing ninja moves against a white background. The boy bunny is in blue, while his sister is in red, making it easy to tell them apart. The brother's friends are just bunnies, without ninja costumes, keeping the visual focus clearly on the siblings. 

Ninja Bunny: Sister vs. Brother is a nice addition to the recent ranks of books about ninjas, with plenty of dynamic jumps and kicks, and a small but determined sister. Fans of the first book will definitely want to give this one a look, as will libraries serving preschoolers. Recommended. 

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Literacy Milestone: Borrowing Ideas from Books

LiteracyMilestoneARecently my daughter mentioned that her teacher had read aloud Waiting Is Not Easy! (Elephant & Piggie) by Mo Willems to the class. That evening (or possibly the next day) my daughter made a big point of telling my husband and me that she had a surprise for us, but that we would have to wait a bit. Not too long afterwards she dragged us upstairs to view what was, in fact, a spectacular sunset. She kept asking: "Do you like my surprise?". And we did. 

WaitingIsNotEasyI didn't put it together until my daughter and I read Waiting Is Not Easy! a couple of days later, and I was reminded that the premise of the book is that Piggie has a surprise for Gerald, for which he has to wait all day, and which turns out to be the stars in the night sky. 

So my daughter borrowed that premise, modified it for our home (from which we do often get nice sunset views), and made it her own. This is learning from books at its finest. I was very proud. 

Do your kids "borrow" ideas from books? 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

NOW is the Time to Make Plans for #KidLitCon (cross-posted)

KidLitCon2016LogoSquareKidLitCon is coming! The Kidlitosphere conference will be held in Wichita, KS on October 14th and 15th. The deadline to get the truly excellent conference rate at the KidLitCon hotel is TODAY. The early bird conference registration rate expires next Friday, September 30th. If you’ve been thinking about attending KidLitCon, now is the time to make plans. Register for KidLitCon here.

View the conference program here. We have two fabulous keynote speakers coming: A. S. King and Clare Vanderpool, and have lots of other fabulous bloggers and authors on the program. 

Attending KidLitCon is a great opportunity to connect, in real life, with other bloggers, authors, and librarians - with people who care about connecting kids with books. We hope to see you there!! 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: September 23: Tons of Links on Growing Readers

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Not included are the live tweets that I did of the Cybils panelist announcement, as there were many of those. You can find the lists of panelists on the Cybils blog. Other topics this week include #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #PictureBooks, #WorldReadAloudDay, Growing Bookworms, Harry Potter, introversion, kidlitosphere, libraries, Mo Willems, parenting, reading aloud, reading choice, recess, school librarians, and schools.

Book Lists + Awards

Big News: National Ambassador for Young People's Lit Gene Luen Yang Named MacArthur Fellow  @sljournal #kidlit

TheStorytellerOur Favorite Children's #PictureBooks of 2016 (Part 3), a @momandkiddo #BookList  @storybreathing @evanturkart + more

Making new friends -- #PictureBooks for the new school year (ages 4-8), #BookList from @MaryAnnScheuer 

A Tuesday Ten from @TesseractViews | #ScienceFiction in #PictureBooks  #BookList

6 New #PictureBooks That Celebrate Autumn recommended by @rebeccazdunn  #kidlit #BookList

WorstPrincessPrincesses with Attitude: My Top Ten Princess Books (UK published) by Emma Barnes @AwfullyBigBlog  #BookList

Favorite Preschool #Science Books, from thinking like a scientist to life-, earth-, physical sciences  @growingbbb

Always interesting: Newbery / Caldecott 2017: Fall Prediction Edition — @fuseeight  #kidlit #PictureBooks


Changes Are Fun, Part Whatever | Meet our new #Cybils Fiction #PictureBook chair, @debnance (replacing @readingtub ) 


MangoAbuelaMeLots of #DiverseBooks news + #writing links in today's Cynsational News & Resources @CynLeitichSmith  #kidlit

Events + Programs

Sign up to Skype with an Author on #WorldReadAloudDay 2017!  #WRAD @KateMessner #ReadAloud

Growing Bookworms

Cutting parents whose babies just aren't interested in #ReadingAloud yet some much-deserved slack @HornBook 

IllustratedHarryPotter1One librarian/parent's perhaps controversial thoughts on Why the Public #Library Does Not Need Toys by @mrskatiefitz 

One Mom's Opinion on When to Read #HarryPotter to her kids from @sunlitpages  #ReadAloud

"Planning for reading + being picky about our book choices is important" esp. for reluctant readers @nerdybookclub

A Few Ideas For Better Book Shopping, an important skill (teaching kids how to find great books) from @pernilleripp

Sigh: Parents spend 25% less on books for boys, study reveals @thebookseller via @PWKidsBookshelf  #RaisingReaders

NarniaWardrobeWhy you should never stop #ReadingAloud to your kid by @feistyredhair @TreeHugger  via @tashrow

Heathy diet linked to improved #reading skills in children, per study from Finland  via @tashrow

8 ways that being a #reader benefits kids | @alessiamariee @POPSUGAR  #RaisingReaders via @PWKidsBookshelf

Interesting: Lift-the-flap books may hinder toddlers from learning new words @ScienceDaily  via @PWKidsBookshelf

9 Fun Ways to Keep Kids Interested in #Reading and #Storytelling from @MarjorieIngall @ReadBrightly 

Why You Should Read Challenging Books To Kids, Plus 8 (multicultural) Recommendations @bustle  via @PWKidsBookshelf


I could relate to this piece by @raisinghappines | Please Stop Interrupting Me! How interruptions make us irritable


Lots of #kidlit tidbits in today's Fusenews @fuseeight | @CeceBellBooks  @100scopenotes @SevenImp + more 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

CookieFiasco#KidLit: Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! Notes from @momsradius on new #EarlyReader series edited by @The_Pigeon 


Get Your Children Good and Dirty (+to eat better +to avoid extra antibiotics) - Microbes crucial to our health  @WSJ

One Mom’s Journey Raising a Child with Bipolar Disorder @DGephartWrites @ReadBrightly  #Parenting

Schools and Libraries

UK-focused, true everywhere: #School #librarians, a precious resource under threat by Linda Strachan @AwfullyBigBlog 

CatInTheHatIntellectual Freedom + the Leveling of #BeginningReaders: When #Library Values Clash by @DanielleBookery 

Top Ten Things from #nErDcampMI We Want to Try in Our Work by #teachers for teachers @ClareandTammy  @nerdybookclub

A reminder from @sxwiley of a failed chance in which he gave kids an answer instead of letting them think it through  

Long Island School District Doubles Recess Time For K-5, Should Other Districts Follow? @SayvillePatch  @drdouggreen

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

The Bronze Key (Magisterium, Book 3): Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

Book: The Bronze Key (Magisterium, Book 3)
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Pages: 256
Age Range: 8-12


The Bronze Key is the third book in the five-book Magisterium series, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, following The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet. This is a fine series for fans of middle grade fantasy. It has echoes of the Harry Potter series, but with plenty of unique attributes, too. We have a boy who is special (and connected intimately with someone evil) because of something that happened to him as a baby. We have a magical school, fleshed out via inventive world-building. We have two best friends, one male and one female. And we have, in this installment, an overhanging threat, a spy to be uncovered, and dating dynamics between young teens. Yes, this is a must-read series for fans of epic middle grade fantasy, school stories, and/or twisty plots. 

I don't feel the need to recap the plot of this third book. If you haven't read the first two, any description will contain spoilers for those. And if you have read the first two, you don't need me to tell you what to expect. You already want to read The Bronze Key. So I'll just say that The Bronze Key does not disappoint. I liked it better than the second book, probably because more of it takes place at the atmospheric Magisterium and I quite enjoy spending time there. Here it is:

"The caverns were humid but cool. Water dripped down from the jagged icicle stalactites to the melted-candle stalagmites below them. Sheets of gypsum hung from the ceiling, resembling banners and streamers from some long-forgotten party. Call walked past it all, past the damp flowstone and the pools shining with mica, where pale fish darted. He was so used to it that he longer found it to be particularly creepy." (Page 57)

Black and Clare are masterful at characterization (especially for main character Call), and at blending action, mystery, and humor. I especially like Call's dry, self-deprecating voice. Like these examples:

"Call knew they were in trouble when he saw there were chairs up on the dais. Chairs meant a long ceremony. He wasn't wrong. The ceremony went by in a blur, but it was an extended and boring blur." (Page 19)

"Yeah I've been..." Call's voice trailed off. He wondered if it was possible to have a conversation entirely in sentences that trailed off. If so, he and Celia were definitely on their way to an epic example." (Page 83)

I also appreciate the way that the authors incorporate Call's disability (from an infant leg injury) throughout, without making it feel like a big deal. Each of the characters has something that makes life difficult for them, but they continue moving forward. The dynamics between Call and his friends remain complex (particularly in light of developing dating interests, an area in which Call seems to lag a bit). 

Developments at the end of The Bronze Key left me surprised, and certainly wanting more. The Bronze Key is a strong addition to a solid series, one that will be, and should be, eagerly awaited by fans everywhere. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Scholastic Press (@Scholastic) 
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: September 21: Writing, Editing, and Discovering #LunchLady

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book through middle grade) and two posts about my daughter's latest literacy milestones (declaring herself a person who loves to write, and changing the ending of a book). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter. I'll have a post with articles about joy of learning soon - I do have a couple of things saved up, but haven't had time to add my comments. 

Reading Update: In the past two weeks most of my reading time was again on audio. I read/listened to one middle grade book and four adult titles. I do have some promising middle grade titles stacked up, but reading time has been hard to come by... Anyway, I read: 

  • Susan Maupin Schmid: If the Magic Fits (100 Dresses, Book 1). Random House. Middle Grade. Completed September 9, 2016, print ARC. Review to come, closer to publication. 
  • Marti Olsen Laney: The Intovert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World. Workman. Adult Nonfiction. Completed September 10, 2016, on MP3. I found plenty of food for thought in this title, which I had picked up as an Audible Deal. 
  • Jonathan Maberry: Patient Zero: Joe Ledger, Book 1. St. Martins Press. Adult Mystery/Thriller. Completed September 17, 2016, on MP3. This was a bit violent/gory for my taste, but it certainly held my attention, and I'm tempted to take a look at the next book in the series. 
  • Martin Lindstrom: Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends. St. Martins Press. Adult Nonfiction. Completed September 18, 2016, on Kindle. It took me a long time to get through this book, but it's one that can be read in small doses. I found the premise, that insights can be found by looking at "small data" like what people put on their refrigerators, and what they share on Twitter, interesting.
  • Craig Johnson: An Obvious Fact (Walt Longmire). Viking. Adult Mystery. Completed September 20, 2016, on MP3. This was not my favorite installment of this series, for some reason. It just didn't hold my attention. I'll still be looking out for the next book, though. 

LunchLadyBook1I'm reading A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Digital Age by Daniel J. Levitin and listening to Home (Myron Bolitar) by Harlan Coben. But I'm also very tempted by the new Carol O'Connell book about Mallory, and will likely dip into that soon. The books my husband and I have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. My daughter's latest literary discovery is the Lunch Lady books by Jarrett Krosoczka. She was talking to me about how she couldn't wait to grow up to become a spy, so that she could have access to the gadgets. And I said: "Have I ever shown you the Lunch Lady books?" And a new fan was born. Now that she's in first grade, lunch ladies are a more real concept for her. So the idea of a lunch lady who is a spy, and has fun gadgets, well, that's irresistible, isn't it? We are already on Book 4. 

I'm continuing to share all of my longer reads, as well as highlights from my picture book reads with my daughter, via the #BookADay hashtag on Twitter. Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

This Is My Dollhouse: Giselle Potter

Book: This Is My Dollhouse
Author: Giselle Potter
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ThisIsMyDollhouseMy daughter brought This Is My Dollhouse by Giselle Potter home from the library, and we both enjoyed it very much. It's about a girl who has made her own dollhouse out of a cardboard box. She's made most of the furniture and other items, too. There's a block with burners drawn on it to make a stove, a couch made from a green and yellow kitchen sponge, etc. The girl plays with the cobbled-together dollhouse family every day, making them foods like noodles from cut pieces of yellow string, and singing them to sleep.

Her friend, Sophie, in contrast, has a "perfect" dollhouse, with plastic people and plastic food. Acceptable play with Sophie's dollhouse is dictated by the available, pre-made accessories. No creativity is allowed. When Sophie comes over to play, the narrator worries about the potential rejection of her home-made dollhouse. Instead, however, Sophie is charmed, and the two girls take the dollhouse family on a delightful vacation. 

This Is My Dollhouse is a celebration of creativity and imagination. It feeds the child reader's fascination with making things, and with little things. My own daughter was inspired to make a cup of "popcorn" (tiny balls of rolled-up toilet paper), like the one in the book. I'm rather surprised that she has yet to build her own dollhouse, though she has been asking to make some dioramas out of old shoeboxes. 

Potter's text is straightforward, written in the first person, and demonstrates occasional flashes of humor. Like this:

"I made a TV by cutting a hole in a little silver box and gluing a picture inside. I can change the picture whenever I want.

The rug is a very small piece of carpet I cut off the one in my room. (So far, no one has noticed.)" 

That last aside made me give a little snort of laughter. Here's one more snippet:

"Mommy makes them fried eggs (circles cut from white paper, with yellow colored centers),

and then the twins take the elevator up, up, up and 
swim in the rooftop pool in their bikinis."

Potter's illustrations fill in more of the details, such as the method of making the popcorn, the girl's choice to use a shoe as an airplane, etc. Her distinctive illustration style, with its old-fashioned feel and sometimes skewed perspectives, is a perfect fit for this story. The expressions of the two girls, when bored at Sophie's house, are priceless, as is the narrator's look of quiet satisfaction on the book's final page. 

This Is My Dollhouse would be a great choice for any child who enjoys making things. It belongs in libraries everywhere, particularly those serving early elementary school children. It would make a wonderful birthday or holiday gift, especially if accompanied by a large cardboard box. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).